Internet Wonderland Can Become A Nightmare If Google “Cutts” Off Your Head

Perhaps no tragedy is as great as watching people and companies perform some real black-hat tricks to get their clients’ websites to rank well for specific search terms. Despite the press given to companies and websites that get penalized for using bad-faith tricks to enhance their rankings, web clients and business owners are still captivated by the quick-fix, hoping to dodge the Google 950 penalty or, worse, the deindexing that could happen. The risks associated with black-hat tricks should make them the least appealing website development tactic. Many are addicted by immediate traffic or quick page-one listings, and they will do anything for their fix.

Recently, a friend sent a message to me asking me to run a search term. I typed the term into the Google search field, and voila! The website he had been optimizing for about nine months was ranked number one! I like this guy, but I also know he tends to use some forbidden tricks of the trade, at least as Google as repeatedly defines them, and he manipulates and games the system to gain these number one rankings. He is a brilliant coder, but the web is not so ephemeral as he treats SEO with his games and tricks.

“My SEO company says Pagerank and backlinks are the best ways to gain solid rankings.” As with so much that happens in the world of SEO, this statement is both true and misleading.

How did he get the number-one ranking for his client, who owns a business in a fairly competitive industry? He told me he wrote blog posts on various sites that link back to his client’s domain. This is a well-established practice, repelete with a long history of producing great and immediate results. All you do is find websites and blogs that are in related industries, write a short post as a guest or a member of the forum, then sit back and watch as Google increases your Pagerank and elevates your target website above the competition. It is also a process that eventually will cost you.

Shill Posts and Straw Blogs

Most of the blog posts used to manipulate SEO are not composed of sound, relevant content; instead, they are short blurbs that have a link to the affected website. In other words, they are placed on the forum specifically to game the system. Guess what? The Google algorithms and the live people that patrol these black-hat forum sites will eventually put the smack-down on the clients’ website. They know what the domain owner or the SEO company is trying to do, and they are better at ensnaring the mad black-hatters than ever before. One company in the United Kingdom, Interflora, learned this very hard lesson in February of this year (2013) when they were hit with an SEO penalty so severe, they literally disappeared from search results. Just look at the graphic below to see what happens with such a penalty.

interflora search penalty

Interflora’s infamous web penalty. Follow the Mad Black Hatter into Optimization Wonderland, and you could lose your head, not to mention your rank.

Perhaps the most famous SEO penalty of recent memory, at least for me, is the J.C. Penney 950 penalty of 2011. We wrote about it on our old Rodan Media Blog about SEO, when the news was roaring across the internet so fast root servers nearly caught fire. Links from another domain are relevant, but the kind of link that goes back to your website has to be genuine. Bogus forum posts, by anonymous or obvious black-hat users, and fake websites with backlinks — this is what J.C. Penney’s SEO company and Interflora did — are a big-time no-no!

Here is a little secret you may not know: This can still happen even when the back-links are set up as “no-follow”, links that are ignored by the indexing algorithms. Well, if they are ignored, you are asking, why would they hurt my site? Because there is strength in numbers, my friend. The more of these shill links your company posts, the more likely you are to have the links designated as spam. That will also cause a site penalty. If you doubt me, take it from Google’s own Matt Cutts.

The Pagerank Question

I know what you are thinking. “My SEO company says Pagerank and backlinks are the best ways to gain solid rankings.”

As with so much that happens in the world of SEO, this statement is both true and misleading. First, Pagerank is becoming less relevant than it had been previously. A Pagerank algorithm change happened in February, and more are expected in the coming weeks. Moreover, Google began modifying this process many years ago. The timing of on such update, curiously, followed the 950 penalty they dolled out to J.C.P.

It is interesting that, while many in the SEO world know this, they are still providing misinformation about Pagerank and backlinks. It is Google’s own Webmaster Tools blog that first discussed Pagerank changes beginning in 2009! A 2011 post on their webmaster forum provided more information about new changes, new penalties and how to avoid the traditional pitfalls of seeking quick results and paying for them later.

And that is the real issue for the business owner seeking a quick ranking. For my friend, who was able to get his client listed #1 in the search results, the results will not last. What is worse, eventually the website could be penalized, costing more money and other resources to correct. Essentially, the short-term gains could cost business later. It is the kind of instant gratification that one should avoid , if your online reputation and your website’s durability matters to you.


Pagerank and selling backlinks:

Pagerank manipulation:

Web spam actions:


About the Author

Danny Pryor is a media, website and content developer based in Fort Lauderdale. He produces websites, video and other digital media through his company, Rodan Media, and is the executive director of the travel website,, which he co-owns with his business partners. Danny began website development in 2000, while working with Scoop Magazine, in Fort Lauderdale. His media and broadcasting career dates to 1988, when he began working in news radio, in Las Vegas. He has two awards from the Florida Associated Press, for Best Individual Achievement and for Best Spot News, for his radio news coverage of events in Miami, during 1992.

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